How to Read Food Labels

I common question that people ask me is: "is this food product healthy?" so I thought this video might be super helpful for some of you when choosing a healthy food product. This can be a bit tricky now with a lot of food companies using clever marketing to make their food product seem healthier than it really is.

Always read the ingredient list

Don’t be fooled by the product claims on the front of the packet. And always read the ingredient list. The ingredient list is the number 1 thing you want to look at when reading packets…the ingredient list tells you everything! 

The product packet might say it is healthy, gluten-free, fat-free, low in calories…and all that kinda jazz…. but this does not mean that it is a healthy option. Rice crackers are a good example, the packet will always they are low fat and gluten-free which makes them seem like a healthy option. But if you look at the ingredient list which is the small print, you will notice A LOT of crackers contain chemical flavour enhancers, vegetables oils and sometimes even sugar.

What out for food chemicals and numbers

If you see words that you don’t recognise and sound as though they belong in a chemistry lab then put the product back on the shelf! Some examples are artificial sweeteners like sucralose, preservatives, nitrates, artificial colours and msg to name a few.  If it is processed then chances are it will contain one or more of these ingredients. Often food chemicals are printed in the ingredient list as a number, often starting with the letter E so watch out for any numbers too.

Food chemicals are best avoided because many of them have been linked to cancer, disrupt hormones and other health concerns. This is especially important with choosing the right foods for your children as well. Common food products that are marketed towards children are often packed full of chemical colouring and flavours and these chemicals’ have been linked to behavioural issues in children.

What out for sugar

Sugar is everywhere! So many of our everyday food products, that you wouldn’t even expect it, do actually contain a lot of sugar. Examples are tinned tomatoes, baked beans and ‘healthy’ breakfast cereals such as Special K and Weetbix.

In the ingredient list sugar is not always just called sugar, there are so many other terms used on packets that pretty much do just mean straight sugar.

Some examples are: glucose syrup, corn syrup, barley malt extract and maltodextrin, agave nectar, beet sugar, black strap molasses, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, caramel, carob syrup, coconut palm sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup solids, crystalline-fructose, date sugar, dehydrated cane sugar, dextrin, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, gum syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, inverted sugar, malt syrup, maltose, muscavado, palm syrup, refiners syrup, sorghum syrup, sucanat, sucrose, treacle and turbinado

Use the 100g column on the nutrition table to compare products

To be honest, I don’t look at the table much. As long as you are happy with the ingredient list, I don’t believe it is important to know how many calories, grams or carbs etc is in the product…it then just becomes too confusing and that is not what living and eating healthy is about.

However, tables are great for comparing products. For example if you are trying to decide between buying 2 different brands of yoghurts. First check the ingredient list and make sure they are both all natural with no added sugars.

Then what you could do it use the 100g column on the table to compare which one has more protein which should help you make the decision.

I hope you found these tips helpful when buying foods in packets. But keep in mind as well, the less food you buy in packets the better anyway. Base your diet around plenty of whole and natural foods earth grown foods which you will find on the outside of the supermarket. 


References: 

Weiss, Bernard. Food Additives and Environmental Chemicals as Sources of Childhood Behavior Disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry. Vol. 1. Issue 2 (1982): 144-152. 
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002713809609134

McCann, Donna et al. Food additives and hyperactive behaviour in 3-year-old and 8/9-year-old children in the community: a randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. The Lancet. Volume 370. Issue 9598 (2007): 1560-1567. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673607613063

Aruoma, O.I. Nutrition and health aspects of free radicals and antioxidants.  Food and Chemical Toxixology. Volume 32. Issue 7 (1994): 671-683.